Published: 09 December 2021
1. A very good morning to all distinguished guests. I’m very happy to be able to join all of you. It indeed has been a very touching morning, and we are very happy to gather as a community. Not only are we bringing forth our message of trying our best to prevent offending and re-offending behaviour, but at the same time, we are also bringing out the message that whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever background you have, we want to take care of you. We want your family to be strong, and we want the kids to have a better future.
2. I want to thank Harun Ghani Education Fund (HGEF), Ray of Hope and the National Gallery for making this happen; and Ms Chong Siak Ching and Mr Mark Wong for supporting the good work of Ms Haslinda Putri and Mr Harun Ghani. As you know, the late Mr Harun Ghani is considered an inspirational leader. Until today, people will still talk about him. They talk about the work he has done, and his spirit lives on. Until today, I have met veterans and even people who were very, very involved in drug addiction in the past, who still recognise and appreciate the good work that Mr Harun Ghani has done.
3. He placed very strong emphasis on taking care of the vulnerable groups and also educating the young, and education. And I think that is critical. You also see the community coming forward to support the cause, and to me, that is a plus for Singapore. It speaks volumes about all of you who have come today – you have very big hearts; and it is very important for us to continue to build an inclusive society.
Progress in Preventing Offending and Re-offending
4. Because of the good work of people like the late Mr Harun Ghani, Ms Haslinda Putri and the rest of us who want to bring goodness to lives, our efforts have borne fruit.
5. For example, if you look at the recidivism rate among our different cohorts of inmates, it has gone down. Today, if you look at the rate of the 2018 release cohort, the two-year recidivism rate was about 22.1%, and this is the lowest since the 1990 release cohort. So, that is good news.
6. Secondly, the number of people coming on board to support, for example, the families and inmates, has also gone up, especially in the Malay/Muslim community. In 2015, we just had about 60 Malay/Muslim volunteers. Today, we have more than 450, and this is about an 750% increase. So, it speaks a lot about how far our community has come and there are many other volunteers who may not be accounted for, so I think it has jumped more than 750%.
7. We are also seeing more and more ground up initiatives. I’ve been seeing people in my Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) office and external groups coming forward to play a part, within their own ambit. This is fantastic, and we must continue this, because we all make mistakes in life and we must never, never be biased against anyone. Because that person is not alone – that person has family, that person has children and that person will have future generations. So, we must continue this journey to give beyond second chances to every single one, and their families. It is important that we continue this journey, and we do our best.
Harms and Effects of Drug Abuse
8. We know drugs are harmful and we are worried. We are making good progress in some of these areas. The liberal attitude towards drugs continues to be on the rise. If you watch YouTube videos, or you see what’s happening in some of the countries, you realise that they have lost the fight against drug abuse. So, that’s why they go for harm reduction. In Singapore, as shared by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong just a few days ago, we will continue with the strong stance against drug abuse because we know drug abuse is harmful for the family, for the individual, their children and our society.
9. When I was a Member of Parliament for Marine Parade GRC, I remember meeting one of my residents at one of the rental flats in Chai Chee. About 10 years later, I met her at another rental flat in Chong Pang, and I asked her “how has life been?” She said that the drug traffickers and pushers are “killing me slowly” and it is a painful process. This is why we must educate our young that drugs are harmful and drugs lead you to a trap that is so deep that is not easy to get out. This is so that they will not only be aware, but will be resilient to say “no” to drugs.
10. Like some of you, I engage the prison community often because of my work, and I also engage their families and the children. I realise I sympathise with them, especially the young. Once they get into drugs, it is very difficult to get out from the addiction. Just yesterday, I met a group of people who have been free and staying clean for the last 20, 30 years. They needed a lot of support, like what you are providing today. Please continue to provide that support, because otherwise, it is difficult to get those who need help onboard. This is something that is very important.
RINDU Art Exhibition – Art Pieces
11. Now, I want to comment about “RINDU”. “RINDU” is an appropriate theme, because when you meet the kids, you realise they “rindu” their parents and family members. When I meet the inmates inside, they also shared with me, they also “rindu” their families and home. When I ask them what would inspire them to become better, more than 90 per cent would say, it’s their family members, and particularly, their children. Haslinda, together with her colleagues in HGEF, has found a very good reach. Continue the good work. I think it is important for us to make sure that we provide that support to the children, while their parents are inside, while their family members are inside, so that the children are able to have the opportunities like others, despite the absence of some aspects of their development. In particular, their social and emotional development, which may become very prevalent if they are not engaged.
12. This is something that the whole community, whole society must take ownership in. Going through this exhibition, I am very touched by what has been expressed here. This art piece, for example, is something that attracts me. It is about eating together, which sometimes, we take for granted. When parents or even our kids want to eat with us, sometimes we would say we have no time because of work. But it means a lot to them, because when you eat together, you learn and develop many things, from sharing, interacting, and taking care of one another. In my view, this piece is really good. It may represent what the child is thinking, but I think it goes beyond longing to eat with those that are missing. For those of us who have this opportunity, don’t miss it, because these are important parts that you never know those who don’t have it, they really regret it. So, we must start valuing it.
13. I’m also attracted by this piece which depicts the different aspects of emotions of the brother, which I think it is very meaningful. When kids keep quiet, we must engage. This piece shows a lot of different feelings and emotions, and how the world would be a better place if we are able to unlock some of these into some things we can learn and see, so that we can keep them with us. Give them hope and allow them to achieve their aspirations.
14. I am happy that such a platform is being developed and implemented, because if I am a child and I see this, without knowing the background, I would think this is just a product. But with the stories behind it, for those of us who may have our parents, family members together with us, I think will encourage us to stop complaining. We will be more appreciative. For those of us who may have similar experiences, or if we know someone else is also experiencing the same, there are people who are here to care and help.
15. Thank you for having me here. I really appreciate the additional emotional engagement. On our part, at MHA and Singapore Prison Service, we will continue to work with agencies and organisations, to make sure that we enhance and go deeper in our inclusive journey, to provide the additional support to our inmates and their families, especially the children.
16. Like what I have said, things look very hopeful because more and more people are coming onboard to help. Remember this, it is a journey for each and every one of us, especially the young. Before I end, I just want to share, every year, in the recent years, the number of abusers arrested below 30 years old remains significant.
17. So, let’s do more to take care of our young, provide them a better option in terms of the paths they want to take and get them to stay away from drugs, because drugs are harmful and will drag them deep into the trap and it is not easy. Almost every other day, I have been engaging ex-offenders who have stayed offence free to get them out to share messages with the rest of their friends to stay away from drugs. Just yesterday, I received a message on my Instagram, someone who was released two months ago, but he needs help. They are coming forward, but we need people to also engage them. So, please come forward if you are out there, you can help Haslinda, help any other platforms, to make sure that even though people make mistakes, there are opportunities for them to make it good. Your mistakes should not adversely affect your family and your children.
18. On that note, thank you to HGEF, National Gallery, and all the volunteers. I hope we can develop a better community, in the years to come.
19. Thank you very much.